- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 23, 2003

RICHMOND The Virginia General Assembly adjourned yesterday after approving a $50 billion budget and sending it to Gov. Mark Warner for approval.
Lawmakers voted 35-5 in the Senate and 70-29 in the House on budget revisions that would balance a $2.1 billion revenue shortfall.
The budget package includes pay raises for teachers and other public employees, to take effect Jan. 1 depending on revenue forecasts. The budget package also restores funding to reopen the 12 closed Department of Motor Vehicles offices and Wednesday service hours, which had been eliminated.
Although no tax increases were implemented, Virginians will pay additional fees at the DMV for driver's licenses and will see a 5 percent increase in the price of alcohol from state owned and operated ABC stores.
Democrats in the House criticized the budget, saying it used faulty math and wishful thinking in making revenue adjustments. They also complained that they were shut out of the budget process.
"We are not putting Virginia's fiscal house in order," said Delegate Franklin P. Hall, House minority leader. "If we tested legislators to see how well we did this session, I'm afraid the response would be, 'Sorry, you've got to repeat this grade.'"
Mr. Hall's remarks, which came prior to debate on the bill, brought about an angry response from Delegate Vincent F. Callahan Jr., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
"I am actually disgusted when I hear this kind of blabber coming from this side of the aisle distorting what we did," said a visibly angry Mr. Callahan, McLean Republican. "We inherited a $2 billion program hole from [the governors office] and we fixed it. Give us some credit for that."
Delegate Lacey E. Putney, Bedford independent, the lone budget conference member who had not approved the compromise package announced Friday, said Mr. Hall's "cerebral emissions" persuaded him to change his mind and support the agreement.
Mr. Warner has 30 days to amend, veto or sign the bill that allocates funds for Virginia from July 1, 2003, through June 30, 2004. The governor has expressed concern that the budget does not adequately address the state's needs.
"With us poised to go to war with Iraq, with the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board Alan Greenspan saying be cautious, we've got the legislature downstairs suddenly saying, 'Oh, happy times are here again,'" Mr. Warner said. "That is fiscally irresponsible."
State Sen. Charles J. Colgan, the lone Democrat from the Senate who took part in the budget deliberations earlier this week, defended the result and encouraged his colleagues to support it.
"These are not figures that we pulled out of the air. … There is no way we would inflate these figures" said Mr. Colgan, Prince William Democrat. "I have worked the hardest on this budget of all the budgets I have worked on in the past, and I feel better about this budget than I have any of those others."
In exchange for deleting funds for nonstate agencies, such as cultural centers , which was a major sticking point during negotiations last week, lawmakers were able to continue funding the Center for Innovative Technology in Fairfax County. Under the proposal, the center will receive about $3.3 million next year and agrees to rely on less money in the future.
Yesterday was the close of the 46-day session.


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